Boosting crop and soil health help reduce fungicide inputs for Wiltshire farmer

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

An on-farm trial conducted by an AHDB Monitor Farmer looks to support the claim that prevention is better than the cure when it comes to long-term disease management.

Cereals grower Rob Waterston has managed to grow a robust crop of winter wheat using minimal fungicide inputs, relying on a sophisticated programme of targeted nutrition whilst boosting soil health. The crop is a result of a trial on his farm near Newbury in Wiltshire.

Rob was encouraged to do the trial by his agronomist Ben Harrington, who was guided by his belief that a healthy and robust crop is best able to withstand disease and reduce reliance on inputs.

Ben’s strategy comprised microbial and nutritional products. He started using microbial inoculants to improve soil health and take advantage of the symbiotic relationship between the soil and the plant. A targeted nutritional programme was then used to keep the crop health up. Straw strength was maintained using a combination of silicon, potassium and copper. Ben made routine sap and tissue analyses throughout the season, as well as regular visual assessments to ensure the crop received the right nutrients when required.

While Ben and Rob’s original aim was to omit fungicides entirely, yellow rust proved a challenge throughout the season. Although the pair were able to suppress it for a while they were left with no choice but to step in with a fungicide at the flag leaf emergence stage, knowing how aggressive the disease can become. A herbicide was also used following some black-grass pressure.

With harvest just around the corner, Rob is keen to see whether their efforts will translate into decent yields. Having recently joined the AHDB Monitor Farm programme, Rob will use his meetings with fellow growers this winter to discuss the results and how he can apply what he’s learned to future seasons.

If successful, he will have made significant progress in his mission to change his farm management and open the door to how he can adopt more sustainable farming methods.

Meetings of the Newbury Monitor Farm will resume this winter. Keep checking the Newbury Monitor Farm webpage and the events page on the AHDB website for details of meetings in the coming months.